Sarah Blackwood of alt-indie band Walk Off the Earth got her musical start right here in Whistler.
"I lived in Whistler from 2002 to 2004 and I started to perform at open mic nights... The very first time I did one was at the Crystal Lounge," the singer and multi-instrumentalist recalls, adding that the audiences were supportive and that made all the difference.
"It was there that I realized I wanted to take it to the next level."
Named Group of the Year at the 2016 Juno Awards, Blackwood and her four Burlington, Ont.-based band members — Gianni Nicassio, Ryan Marshall, Mike Taylor and Joel Cassady — are renowned for using everyday objects along with instruments to make fascinating, fantastic music.
They are known for their innovative covers, including "Hello" by Adele and, more recently, Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You," using slinky tubes cut to different lengths as percussion, with the band seated around a table.
"One of us will hear a song and instantly be inspired by what instruments could be used," Blackwood says."For example, for the 'Shape of You' video, I was at a toy store buying puppets for another video and they had slinky tubes at the cashier. She told me they were noise makers, and I said, 'I'll take a whole box.'"
When you listen to the original version of the song, the sounds the slinky tubes make are already there using instruments, Blackwood says.
"What we use comes from a song or comes from something somebody finds and we have to figure out where to use it in a song. We're surrounded by musical instruments, even if we don't have a guitar."
She adds: "We get inspired by everything around us and go from there. We did a version of Taylor Swift's 'Shake it Off' and we used shakers."
Walk Off the Earth is headlining the free stage on the second day of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) on Saturday, April 8. Whistler-Vancouver artist Willa and local band JennaMae and the Groove Section open.
The performances start at 1 p.m.
Blackwood laughs as she describes taking their music-making on the road.
"Our crew hates us. It's the most insane set-up. There's an ironing board set up like a table, with a whole bunch of Velcro and stuff on it and clamps for microphones and we all just go to the one table and it's all mic'd, and our bells are there," Blackwood says.
While the band has performed "Hello" live, they are currently deciding how to bring in their more recent covers.
"Anyone who has seen our videos and come out to a live show will find out that we incorporate a lot of what we are doing onstage. We never hold back," she says.
Walk Off the Earth has spent time recently in Los Angeles.
"We wanted to escape the winter," Blackwood laughs.
"And we are recording and shooting videos and all kinds of stuff. Just working."
The band has decided that they are concentrating on singles for now, rather than traditional albums.
Their most recent single, "Fire My Soul," came out on Dec. 31.They are getting new singles ready for release shortly, though haven't set an official date.
"We're pretty excited to get them out there... We're releasing songs one at a time, because it's how music is right now. People still release albums, but it's a long process and not always worth it," Blackwood says.
Is it more complicated or easier to make and release music this way?"It's so much easier," she says.
"When you do an album it can take so long to write, 10 to 12 songs can take anywhere from eight months to two years. When you're working with such a changing music industry, who knows what is going to be the next thing that people will love? You record a song that you think might be interesting to people now and it may not be the same nine months from now.
"And you write 30 songs, put your favourite 12 on the album, and three of them get listened to. Radio stations aren't going to play 12 songs from an album."
Last year, the band stayed on a week after a show in order to hit the mountains. Blackwood says this may be in the cards this year, too.
For more, visit www.wssf.com.
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